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Biometric Palm Reading: The Future of Patient Identification?

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Vascular recognition provides a false acceptance rate of just 8 in 10 million.

Protecting patient identity from would-be thieves reached a new level of importance late last year when the Federal Trade Commission announced it would require financial institutions and creditors—including hospitals—to implement programs for detecting and preventing identity theft.

Hospital executives at ValleyCare Health System in Pleasanton, CA, knew that beginning this month, instances of identity theft could result not only in a loss of revenue, but also in potential government fines if processes to prevent it were not put place. Rogel B. Reyes, director of patient access at ValleyCare, says it was while the hospital was looking at ways to mitigate that risk that he was introduced to Fujitsu's PalmSecure palm-vein biometrics system at an industry conference. Shortly thereafter, ValleyCare became the first hospital on the West Coast and third in the nation—along with BayCare Health System in Tampa, FL, and Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, NC—to implement the technology.

"We saw it as a way to streamline our patient registration and identification processes while ensuring electronic medical records and patient privacy are protected," says Reyes. It also helped the hospital comply with the FTC's new Red Flag program, he says.

By linking PalmSecure with another technology, PatientSecure from Fujitsu partner, HT Systems, the hospital staff is also able to accurately retrieve a given patient's electronic medical records during check-in, eliminating the potential for human error when it comes to inputting data, says Reyes.

Palm-vein pattern recognition technology, also referred to as "vascular recognition," uses near-infrared light to capture a patient's palm-vein pattern to generate a biometric template that is compared with a database of enrolled users to make a match. The underlying vascular pattern recognition technology has a false acceptance rate of only 0.00008%, meaning that only about one in 1.25 million are wrongly identified.

Vascular recognition is the only other biometric technology on par with iris scanning in terms of accuracy, according to the International Biometrics Group, which evaluates biometrics products through comparative testing.

Though palm-vein recognition technology is significantly less expensive than iris scanning technology, it's still not cheap. Reyes says ValleyCare leases about 35 palm systems for its two Bay Area locations for about $6,000 per month. He says that measuring financial ROI is difficult, but he's seen "great increases" in patient satisfaction.

Currently the hospital is working with HT Systems to devise a way to identify patients who arrive unconscious at the emergency room. "We want to reach a point where all we have to do is scan the palm, enter whether the patient is male or female, and, if they are registered, their record will be brought up on the computer screen," he says. Presently, as a security measure, the palm system requires third-party users (or anyone who is not the patient) to know either the date of birth or name to perform a search. For now, Reyes says the technology's current capabilities have already exceeded his expectations. "It's not invasive, it's more hygienic than fingerprint biometric systems, and its accuracy cannot be beat," he says.

Kathryn Mackenzie

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1 comments on "Biometric Palm Reading: The Future of Patient Identification?"


HarvardDoc (1/4/2011 at 2:10 PM)
This is interesting, but I have grave concerns about becoming dependent on a critical technology from a single hardware vendor - Fujitsu - who just a few years ago left their entire *existing* biometric customer base high and dry by terminating their very successful fingerprint scanner + software line. For those considering this route, follow some of the hundreds of links you get with this Google search: http://search.fujitsu.com/us/search.jsp?restrict=all_us&q=Fingerprint+device&ie=UTF-8&btnG.x=0&btnG.y=0&btnG=Search . You'll see that all the links to products lead to "Page not found." Hmmm. Fujitsu left Billion-dollar customers such as healthcare giant Omnicell high and dry when some pencil-pusher in Japan decides to cut a tenth of a percent off a division. Do we fantasize that we hospitals will be treated better? What you have here is good marketing hype trying to put a spin on a product that doesn't address the MOST CRITICAL need within healthcare - positively identifying patients, not simply preventing the mis-identification after you find them by the old fashioned method. The reason? They aren't fast or accurate enough to do it, despite being asked for this capability for four years and counting. They point to the Red Flag rule, but the healthcare market has been exempted from having to comply with that rule. Then we have the well-worn red herring about palm vein being preferred to fingerprint. This flies in the face of the comprehensive consumer survey conducted by Unisys every year. It found that, by a 93% to 62% margin, consumers prefer fingerprint over palm vein scanning (Unisys Oct 2009 Security Index, p. 17). Pretty slick marketing to make you think otherwise! With the right fingerprint technology, you can both search for, and positively ID any patient from among milions in your database, without any hints about that patient. Large blood centers are already doing it with millions of donors, right now. We're doing it. Don't take my word for it, though; search for ITxM and fingerprint.